I am reluctant to share this experience, because I don’t know how to choose words to describe the situation in a non-gossip, non-OMG-guess-what-happened-to-me fashion. My purpose, reminding myself before the readers, is a critical analysis of a sad reality present in our Ummah.
Not too long ago, a few family members and I went on an exhilarating hiking trip – in water. It was the kind of trip where you hike between enormous boulders and walk across water that begins as a creek at your ankles, then slowly gains height with every foot forward, until you are underwater completely, only moving forward by hanging on to ropes hooked from boulder to boulder.
The rocks and boulders scattered within the water are also slippery and jagged. Oh, and did I mention that you hike this entire route against the strong current of the water? It’s a great treat for anyone craving a physical, nature-based challenge.
What did I wear on this trip, you ask?
My Abaya, of course! Without thinking twice, I wore sweats, cross-trainers, and my dear, lovely Abaya on top. Not that my closet carries another choice anyway! And why not? I’ve done a million outdoor activities, ranging from jet-skiing, to sand-dune-buggying, to canoeing, to just plain running; and my Abaya was never an issue. Little did I know, it would be an issue that day.
A male mahram was accompanying us, and when he first saw me, he was shocked and remarked, “What are you wearing? You can’t go in a Abaya! You can’t do this in a Abaya!”
My reply? “Oh yes I can! I can do anything with my Abaya!”
Well, I solved that, didn’t I? Wassalamualaikum…
I’ll try to spare you the dialogue, but the entire trip was him remarking more than thirty times that I “should not have worn a Abaya” and I “can’t do what I was doing wearing a Abaya” and “Just tie the Abaya out of the way” and on and on and on.
Mind you, my trip was just as satisfying to me as it was to the next girl, just as satisfying as to me as to those not in Abayas or not even in Hijab. I lost nothing… (although I gained a headache from all the arguing).
“Listen,” I said at one point, “I’m the one wearing this Abaya-not you. I am doing just fine! I am happy! Why are you so bothered?”
And really, why was he so bothered? Why does doing the right thing create an allergic itch for some Muslims these days? Why are some of us so uncomfortable with our Deen? Why are some of us so convinced that Islam needs to be altered and fixed? Where are we going wrong in our Ummah?
I didn’t get to the end-the goal. We came to a part of the hiking trip where you are holding on to the rope, and not only are you going against the current, but the current is actually the bottom of a short (3 meters high) waterfall.
So imagine being at the bottom of a miniature Niagara Falls, swimming into it and then climbing up its rocks, with the forceful water pushing you down and away. If you stand still, the current will automatically take you back to where you started-you don’t even have to try!
Anyway, I wasn’t able to swim against the current the entire way. But neither was another woman on the trip with us, who wasn’t Muslim and in tight-fitting clothes. And neither were some others as well. My Abaya was not the issue. The men continued, reached the end, saw the big waterfall, and came back.
The trail back, much more peaceful and easy, was not the end of the remarks for me. “See how much trouble the Abaya caused you?”
“Actually, no, the Abaya did not get in the way. When we got to strong currents, I lifted it up as needed since I was underwater, and the rest of the way was fine.”
“We should come again, and you should try it without a Abaya.”
“No, I think I’ll try it once more with the Abaya.”
At home the discussion continued.
“You know, this is not Islam,” my male relative said.
“It is Islam. I’ve tried life without a Abaya and with one, and I understand the meaning of hijab.”
“You still should not have worn it! You had a conflict of interest between the activity and what you were wearing!”
“Actually, the conflict is within ourselves.”
I truly believe that. No matter how it shows externally, if anyone has a problem with Islam the conflict is within their hearts. Between what is right, and what for some reason they try to believe is right.
To give him the benefit of the doubt, I hope that his comments throughout the trip stemmed from his genuine concern for my safety and out of practicality issues. It was a dangerous trip (regardless of the clothing) and a Muslim should also be reasonable and logical and not deliberately put himself in danger.
Fast-forwarding to my emotions after the trip, I can honestly say I forgive him and hold no grudge against him. I continue to interact with him normally as before. But I realize there are serious misconceptions-coming from the Muslims-regarding what Islam is and is not.
Besides these conflict-stricken men (or women) I also have some concerns with the women. The ones who don’t represent make it harder for the rest of us to uphold the right picture. One woman I know who does wear a Abaya didn’t join the trip and stayed at home because she couldn’t participate in “those clothes”.
She apparently had tried it before and slipped. Ironically enough, her husband, who also commented on my “unsuitable attire,” fell on the same exact rock his wife had before. And no, he doesn’t wear a Abaya. He was in shorts. Other women showed up in pants and a shirt. That is just reinforcing the incorrect picture-that there is no way to do this with a Abaya.
It has become a widespread myth, misconception, and incorrect understanding that the Abaya holds us back from the “good stuff.” It’s a picture painted wrong, and it’s going to take all of us to paint it right.
I am happy I wore my Abaya. I was so happy to find my Abaya in my life, and I will never forfeit it, inshaAllah. To the mall, to class, to the masjid, to the park, to the waterfall, or to the moon – my Abaya will stay with me. It protects me, gives me my identity, and first and foremost satisfies the command of Allah. Why would I ever give that up?
Of his final comments, “You know, we should do this trip again…without Abayas.”
I shook my head with a smile and concluded, “We should do definitely do this trip again…with Abayas.”
With you my Abaya, I’ll go a-hiking a thousand times over…
Even if I have to defend you the whole trip…
For you my Abaya…a thousand times over…